Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Multi.player 2011 - "Learning in virtual environments" - Johanna Bertram

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Johanna Bertram (Knowledge Media Research Center Tübingen). Full title: "Learning in virtual environments: The role of social presence for virtual team training".

They designed some training for a police team, aiming to help co-ordinate helicopter, car and foot police. This isn't something they can practice in real life, as running the helicopter costs a lot and there is a lot of inconvenience for local people who want to know why the helicopter is around. It is important though, because helicopter pilots need to know how to best direct the ground crew, and the group on the ground need to understand what the helicopter pilots can or can't see and help them with. The virtual environment has the additional plus of allowing people to swap roles, without having to go through extensive retraining programs first!

They worked with experts to get some clear learning objectives, and to make sure they had the views they were giving the trainees correct. They actually initially had the views showing everything too clearly, which would have given a false impression of how much the helicopter crew could see and help. They also  use simulated speech if you are close enough to someone for that to be an option, and if not they used simulated radio.

They used social presence research to ensure that people felt they were operating as part of a team within the virtual environment. It looked like it would be an effective learning tool, but the only feedback she gave was that the trainees who played video games had fewer problems with it than those who didn't. It may be too early in the process to tell. Looked like quite a promising use of the technology though.

Multi.player 2011 - Yvonne de Kort keynote

Keynote presentation at multi.player 2011 from Yvonne de Kort (Eindhoven University of Technology). Full title: "How to win friends - gaming as a socially situated experience".

Started out by looking at the player experience of games, and found that the social context was key to the players' enjoyment but that this was ignored in most models. When they referred back to the motivation and needs models (e.g. Maslow) these always featured the social aspect, but this was not part of any game models/theories that were around.

They started looking at social presence. She mentioned Biocca 2003, which I think is a reference to "Towards a more robust theory and measure of social presence" and I should probably read.

They did a whole load of experiments to see what made people feel more or less together as they played. Interestingly they found hearing each other matters more than seeing each other. She referenced an Australian project called "Men's sheds: Men's needs" where they have found that men talk best shoulder to shoulder, when they are working on something, not face-to-face. Apparently collaborative games vs competitive makes no difference.

She said we clearly like to talk to each other, but we need a reason to start talking. So the men in their sheds can start talking about the work they are doing, and games for gamers can do the same thing. They found that if a variable affected the social presence of the other players, it affected both the enjoyment of the players and the engagement. We apparently win friends by sharing!

Multi.player 2011 - "No one-handed typing" - Ashley Brown

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Ashley Brown (University of Manchester). Full title: "No one-handed typing: An exploration of formal and social rules for erotic role playing in World of Warcraft".

I was interested in this talk from the angle of layering on social rules that are obviously extra to the rules designed by the creators of the game in order to play quite a different game. This was a guild that was set up to erotic role play, with forums to talk outside of the game.

Because erotic role play is clearly outside the EULA and characters cannot actually perform erotic acts within the game, apparently to outsiders this will tend to look like a tableau, with no obvious interaction happening. The players use private chat, and maneuver their characters into vaguely suggestive poses. Blizzard ignores it as long as it uses private chat, but are motivated to keep their 12 rating so keep a lid on the public stuff.

In a further demonstration of the balance between Blizzard and the players, apparently anything went in the ERP guild - provided a clear content warning was posted at the top - apart from anything that even vaguely smacked of paedophilia. Apparently that was because although Blizzard turned a blind eye to most things, they had come down hard on a guild that had allowed paedophilia stories, and expelled all the players. Again, Blizzard shape what's allowed while the players attempt to push those boundaries.

There was a clear difference between erotic role play and cybersex. Erotic role play is for the characters. Players justify it with saying you make your character fight, kill, hate etc, so this just explores the other half of the spectrum with your character. Cybersex is aimed at the players behind the character. Hence the 'no one-handed typing' title, which was actually a quote from one of the participants in the study. People who use the ERP site to get themselves off were breaking the magic circle of the play (spoilsports in Huizinga's terms), and not welcomed.

Fascinating talk from an unexpected angle. Also kept getting mentioned throughout the rest of the conference. Seemed like the only thing that can get games researchers jealous is researching sex and games together!

Multi.player 2011 - Mark Griffiths Keynote

Keynote presentation at multi.player 11 by Mark Griffiths (Nottingham Trent University). Full title: "Online gaming addiction: Does it really exist?".

Mark Griffiths started the presentation by warning us that he had three speeds: fast, very fast, and amphetamine speed. This one was amphetamine. I think a lot of us in the audience felt a bit pounded actually.

He was looking at what is addiction, does gaming addiction exist, and what are people addicted to. This particular talk focussed mostly on the first two. He had a set of criteria used to indicate addiction, and had a correlation between drug addiction and activity addiction.

There was a big point made that excessive time does not mean addiction. It could indicate a healthy obsession. His difference between addiction and healthy obsession was that a healthy obsession adds to life, whereas an addiction detracts.

Another interesting point is that since the cost of spending lots of time online has dropped, so to has the number of people who worry about internet addiction. That came up as a question on one of the panels too - someone was asking about a boy who was being treated for addiction to a game because he'd spent a large amount of money on it.

He was also quite prepared to admit that his opinions have changed over what length of time is excessive, particularly for children. Since becoming a parent he has realised how much free time they have and how easy it is for them to rack up a large number of hours playing computer games, without it detracting from anything else they have to do.